Donald Trump's Donald Trump
[...] Stone, Trump’s most influential and seasoned political adviser at the time, says he quit after the do-it-myself billionaire rejected his plans to create a traditional campaign structure and a suggestion that he seek to broaden his pitch beyond working-class whites. Instead, Trump put his mouth where he wouldn’t put his money, opting for an on-the-cheap one-man road show, fortified by monster debate ratings and an unavoidable-for-comment approach to cable and network TV interviews.
“You don’t manage Donald … you can't deal with him on that basis,” Stone, nursing a mild martini hangover the morning after celebrating Trump’s blowout win in the New York primary last week, explained. During an hourlong sit-down for POLITICO’s “Off Message” podcast, the 63-year-old former Dick Nixon dirty trickster offered a candid assessment of his longtime boss’s strengths, blind spots and daunting path to the presidency.
“He envisioned a campaign which was all communications,” said Stone — who has bounced back in recent weeks to re-emerge as a key adviser to Trump as the tycoon faces a dangerous new phase of his storybook 2016. “But the notion that you could combat — let’s take Florida — $40 million worth of negative television simply by going on ‘Fox & Friends’ and responding, I rejected that idea.”
Stone doesn’t have a formal relationship with the campaign (his role is limited by his stewardship of a pro-Trump super PAC) and he wouldn’t tell me how often he talks with Trump or his top aides. But the campaign’s shotgun reorganization (his former lobbying partner Paul Manafort has layered over Stone’s rival, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski) — and germinating kinder-gentler general election pivot — bears Stone’s fingerprints.
“He’s going to have to better articulate himself on issues that are of concern to women,” Stone said of Trump, stating an obvious truth that, until recently, wasn’t all that obvious to a candidate who prides himself on political incorrectness. “He is going to have to define a pro-growth, more aspirational message for African-American voters, for Hispanic voters, where I actually think he can make inroads.”
When I asked Stone how Trump could possibly do that — and whom he should tap as a running mate— he threw out John Kasich’s name almost by rote. Then he settled on a choice that seemed to better capture his imagination: “Little Marco” Rubio.
Stone, who worked as a dark-arts political type for Nixon and later Ronald Reagan, is a paradox in wide pinstripes and oval 1930s movie-star shades. He’s known for scorched-earth muckraking (he co-authored a book dredging up Clinton scandals and recently emailed me to say that the Clintons should “be worried” about him because “I know exactly how to take them down”) but he desperately wants Trump to make his peace with women and minority voters. Stone’s the ultimate Donald insider (he’s been on Trump’s payroll, on and off, for 40 years) but his habit of telling Trump what he thinks has created an arm’s-length distance. He’s infamous for his profane tirades and crass Twitter outbursts (he once mocked Al Sharpton — a onetime friend — with a fried-chicken joke) but he’s a charming conversationalist who speaks authoritatively about political biographies and pines for lazy Saturdays lost in the stacks of Manhattan’s famous Strand bookstore.
“Without telling tales out of school, because I have a nondisclosure, ... I envisioned a campaign that used the more traditional tools of polling and analytics and targeting and paid media, and a greater depth of organization,” said Stone.
But organization isn’t what Trump is about, and Stone offered tantalizing behind-the-scenes glimpses of a gifted self-taught politician still learning a new trade, a creature of habit who “doesn’t surf the Web” ever, and still gets much of his news from tabloids. The presidency is a drinking-data-through-a-firehose job, but Trump, Stone told me, is reluctant to even sip the water fountain; he finds even minimalist policy briefings to be eye-glazing, Jeb Bush-level bores. Stone loves Trump — he says he’s one of the funniest people he knows — but conceded it’s “an adventure” trying to counsel a reality-TV billionaire who refuses to be scripted or stage-managed.
Stone paused when I asked him how he — or any other adviser — could change the developer’s mind once Trump had been set on a course of action. Tread lightly and keep it punchy was his best advice.
“When you know somebody that long, you get an understanding about how to affect their thinking without being, you know, without being insulting or overstepping a line,” he said. “Nobody puts words in Donald’s mouth. He is his own conceptualizer. All you can do is present information and let him either assimilate it or not. When you write something for him, keep it short and staccato. He’s not going to read a 40-page white paper on the economy; zero chance of that. ... Reagan was a big-picture guy. Trump is a big-picture guy.” [...]
Lots of interesting insights. Read the whole thing. It's excerpts from an interview that was an hour long podcast, which you can click on and listen to near the top of the page when you follow the link. The podcast is even more revealing, it's quite an education.